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Teleology and Evolution: Defending the Anwei

Teleology and Evolution: Defending the Anwei

In Bronze-Age Pervert’s Bronze-Age Mindset, he makes an argument that while Darwinian evolution is true, it is not sufficient to understand life and life’s purpose:

You must understand that the evolutionary psychologist, the evo-biologist, the Darwinist in general—most such people are very good, and even great minds, who are just misled by the fight—plays a game of bait-and-switch. Many times he’s not aware he does this himself. He believes in Darwinism as a teleological faith, that reproduction and survival are the ends of life, the purpose toward which all life strives and that this explains how life or an organism behaves; and also how it is adapted to its environment. But when you confront him on this, he will deny all notion of teleology. He will say he doesn’t believe in any of this, but only in a material mechanism of natural selection. Through this mechanism those organisms that are not in keeping with demands of environment at some time are slowly pared out. By a process analogous to our breeding of animals like dog and horse, nature itself breeds organisms and life this way and that, by accident. There is no end or purpose, he will say, you are crazy! But then when he’s not paying attention he will talk a different way. They all do this. He will start to say that this or that animal is behaving this or that way because it is trying to secure either reproduction or survival. He will explain physical features in this way too, and when he really forgets himself he will make a moral principle out of it. The most honest ones, when they trust you, will talk about replicating themselves as an aspiration and a goal. This is human, all-too-human but also very natural, because it’s very hard to talk about biology or life without teleology or some consideration of ends or purpose. Clearly physics and chemistry seem to be driven by no purpose or goal. But animals seem very much driven by motive or purpose, and is hard to explain a biological feature without reference to its end or purpose. So the Darwinist forgets, or tries to change the topic all the time: he knows what is really interesting is the question of what drives life, what explains animal behavior and what explains the correspondence between organism and environment. This is the question. The mechanism of heredity or the means by which a species is shaped, natural or unnatural selection, which is really Darwin’s only insight, is the least interesting part of all. Actually it is a tautology: yes, only those animals who have managed to reproduce actually pass on their traits. Something every sheep breeder in history has known. But that this alone explains animal adaptation or behavior is nonsense.

Certain behaviors — the glory of birds diving and soaring through waterfalls, the refusal of certain noble beasts to breed in captivity — cannot be explained in terms of survival and reproduction alone. At least, the evolutionary explanations are so convoluted and speculative as to not be worth taking seriously. The purpose of life, according to BAP, is not survival and reproduction. Life seems to have its own, inscrutable purpose, but the purpose of nobility, of men and beasts of a particular character, is to be that bird diving through waterfalls — basking and delighting in one’s own power and beauty. Survival and reproduction are not the ends, nor the means, of this goal, but rather an incidental byproduct (and, incidentally, often a more common byproduct than for those who make reproduction their telos).

One significant question arises from this claim: is it not incompatible with the Anwei?

On the surface, the two views appear contradictory. But in fact, they are not.

For starters, both views grant the truth of evolution, and its effects on the body. But living in harmony with the Anwei was never just about the Anwei. Rather, it was a frame of mind for living the best life you can as an individual:

After all of this criticism of individualism, it may sound inconsistent of me to talk of avatars of the Anwei becoming individuals. But that is what this has been about all along: how do you become the best version of yourself? In the final analysis, the collectivism implicit in this understanding of the Anwei and the individualism implied in talk about “self-actualization” are not opposed to each other. Accepting that you are a part of a greater whole is not a danger to your individuality, but the first step in becoming a truly authentic individual.

Living in harmony with the Anwei — perhaps as a Sardinian, an Okinawan, or a Loma Lindan Seventh-Day Adventist — seems lacks the pursuit of personal glory and the experience of power that BAP describes. But I believe BAP misses a particular kind of power, in his defense of a great and much-denigrated variety. What he neglects is the glory and power of creation.

I do not mean the sort of ecstatic creation accomplished in a fit of energy, but the kind of creation that takes great time… perhaps generations. Castles, cathedrals, great stories (like Homer’s) that grow and evolve into more perfect versions of themselves over time. Great wine cannot be made in a week, or even a year. It is the product of generations of tradition, channeled into months of production and years more of waiting, aging. There is great power in patience, dedication and devotion. And while I fully endorse and embrace the impulsive nobility of Nietzsche and BAP, I believe that the power and joy that can be harvested from patience and dedication is actually greater than that which is merely in the moment. Both are good, but which makes for a better life?

Life itself is the product of life, and the noble character that Nietzsche and BAP love is itself the product of something cultivated, something patiently waited for and crafted. Perhaps not by us; perhaps we are merely tools by which nature crafts brilliant specimens of noble life, without our intent or conscious awareness. But the glory of nature is still in its creation of such beings. If our own intelligence and glory is even a shadow of the intelligence of nature itself, the glory of the creator in his creation is at least equal to that of the glorious created thing in itself.

And ultimately, we are all going to die. We are impermanent, and worse, no one cares. One must either induce a kind of permanent amnesia to keep this thought away, or invest one’s heart in something more lasting and greater than oneself.

This is the Anwei. It is the eternal return, incarnate in biology itself. Manifest in the very body in which Bronze-Age pirates reveled. And they knew where these bodies came from!

‘Brave Diomedes’, Hippolochus’ son replied, ‘why ask my lineage? Like the generations of leaves are those of men. The wind blows and one year’s leaves are scattered on the ground, but the trees bud and fresh leaves open when spring comes again. So a generation of men is born as another passes away. Still if you wish to know my lineage, listen well to what others know already…

In other words, the Anwei and Nietzschean joy in oneself are not exclusive; indeed, they are mutually necessary. The joy of creation allows for the joy of the well-created, well turned-out thing, in itself.

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